There’s nothing particularly mysterious or difficult about attracting hummingbirds. Appeal to their sweet tooth and you have them hooked! Although a large part of their diet consists of tiny insects, they gorge on sweet nectar and visit almost any flower that has a good supply. And in between times, when flowers might be scarce, you can keep them interested with feeders. Here’s a plan for a garden that hummingbirds will love!
Choosing a hummingbird feeder
There are all kinds of hummingbird feeders available. Most are made of plastic, glass or ceramic. Any kind, filled with fresh nectar, will attract hummingbirds. So look for those that will be easiest for you to keep filled and clean. Once you’ve made the commitment to provide a feeder for your hummingbirds, you have to stick with it. They come to depend on you. Basin-style feeders, like the one in the photo above, top the list in our book. They’re large, flat pans with no narrow necks that need brushing and no corners to harbor bacteria, so they’re easier to keep clean than the inverted-bottle types. Take a look at Garden Gate‘s issue 51 for our recommendations for quality hummingbird feeders.
It’s all in the Nectar
Where should you hang feeders? Hummingbirds don’t instinctively recognize a feeder as a food source. But it won’t take these inquisitive creatures long to realize this odd-looking flower serves great meals. So just about anywhere will be a good location as far as the bird is concerned. For your enjoyment, hang a feeder near often-used windows, such as the kitchen or living room. Just be sure there’s something on or behind the windows to alert the little guys they can’t go in the window’s direction. Decals, flags or even miniblinds will be enough to keep them from flying into the glass. And if you’re going to hang several feeders, keep them out of sight of each other. These creatures are territorial terrors, jealously chasing away any other hummingbird that comes by for a drink. Separating the feeders from each other will give more birds a fighting chance to get some nectar.
Speaking of nectar, the food in a hummingbird feeder is really only a supplement to their natural diet. It’s a quick boost of fuel to give the birds the energy they need to hunt insects and forage at flowers.
Natural flower nectar is primarily glucose and water, so simple cane sugar is the only food that should be used to make synthetic nectar for a feeder. Honey ferments rapidly in the warmth and light, and will poison the birds. Flavored gelatin, brown sugar, fruit juices or red food coloring are also no-nos. The birds don’t require the vitamins, protein or other things added to commercial nectars. They get everything they need from the flower nectar and insects they eat.
A simple recipe for sugar nectar
All it takes to make sugar nectar for the hummingbirds is 1 part white cane sugar to 4 parts water
- Bring the water to a boil and remove from heat.
- Stir in the sugar while the water’s still hot, stirring until all the sugar has dissolved.
- Let the mixture cool before filling the feeder.
- Store extra syrup in the refrigerator no more than two weeks.